Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida


Sitar Sensation Niladri Kumar likes to experiment

Lavanya Dinesh

By Lavanya Dinesh

In an era of social media, short attention spans and instant gratification, how do you inspire a whole generation of youth to pause and savor the beauty and depth of Indian classical music? A new crop of well-trained classical musicians are attempting to do just that by embracing the philosophy that the lines dividing different genres of music can be blurred. While happily tapping into world music and engaging in meaningful fusions of regional, national and international musical idioms, these fearless Indian vocalists, instrumentalists and composers do not consider such cross-cultural pollination taboo anymore. It is a well-known fact that Indian classical music giants of the 20th century such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Allah Rakha and so on did not deem their classicism to be dilute despite their innovative efforts to reach a wider audience across the globe. However, the last two decades have witnessed the emergence of an even more brazen bunch of successful Indian classical music ambassadors that do not shy away from commercial and bombastic approaches in promoting their attractive musical agenda. Niladri Kumar is once such extraordinary artist who has undeniable mastery over the instrument of the sitar. 

Photo courtesy Niladri Kumar

Niladri Kumar

Arduously trained in the art of Hindustani classical instrumental music from the tender age of 4 by father and guru Pandit Kartick Kumar, Kumar hails from a family of five generations of dedicated sitar players. Despite such deep-rooted rich classical lineage and pedigree, Kumar has also been drawn to Western music and World music since youth. The sitarist has found a beautiful balance between tradition and modernity with his invention of a new instrument called the Zitar. The Zitar is a fiery-red electric sitar that can be played even while moving on stage. Niladri Kumar regularly performs and records with many artists of international repute, his fusion album entitled “IF” having won him an MTV award is just one among many shining examples of Kumar’s musical experimentation bearing fruit!

I first met and listened to Niladri Kumar’s scintillating sitar playing in Long Island, N.Y., in 1998 at the Pandit Jasraj Youth Music Festival. I was impressed by the musician’s attractive performance style and a mastery of the technical aspects of the instrument. But most of all, I was struck by the heart in Kumar’s music and an unabashed appeal to sentimentality. It was indeed inspiring to find someone from my generation who broached Indian classical music in such interesting and multi-textured ways. Hence, Kumar’s meteoric rise over the past almost two decades does not come as a surprise to me in anyway. Apart from touring all over India and the world for jam-packed traditional classical musical concerts on his sitar (including two successful performances in Tampa Bay), Niladri Kumar has collaborated with the likes of tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain and jazz great John McLaughlin to create fantastic fusion magic on stage. The young sitar maestro has many awards, accolades and about 20 music albums to his credit.

As a brilliant sitar exponent and a zany player of the Zitar, Niladri Kumar is a favorite of Indian film music directors and composers like A.R. Rahman, Pritam, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Vishal Bharadwaj, Anu Mallik, M.M. Kreem and so on. One can readily recognize bold melodic pieces, hooks and themes emanating from Kumar's Zitar and sitar in film songs from popular Hindi language movies – Crazy Kiya Re (“Dhoom 2”), Tere Naina (“My Name is Khan”), Naina (“Omkara”), Dhire Jalna (“Paheli”), Chup Chup Ke (“Bunty Aur Babli”), Awaara (“7 Khoon Maaf”), Alvida (“Life in a Metro”), etc.

My listening recommendations for Niladri Kumar’s pure classical renditions include raagas such as Kausi Kanada, Bilaskhani Todi, Shree, Bageshree and Bhairavi. My fusion music album recommendation is a release from 2004 titled “Chillout Forever” easily available on iTunes and Amazon Music. The genre here is easy-listening lounge music made with love. The eight tracks are breezy, pleasing electronica with a blend of mesmerizing Indian raagas on the sitar, bansuri, sarod, santoor, Dilruba, bass, guitar, Surbahar, drums and light vocals. The result is a wide range of poignant and playful compositions like “Forever 1” based on raaga Tilak Kamod, a yearning "Forever 2,” which sounds like a Bengali ghazal while “Lovers Dream” is a wish in raaga Jhinjoti. “Sensuous” is seriously seductive, “Heartbeats” is gimmicky, “Beyond Time” has an uplifting Bansuri and Dilruba contrasted with the track “Evergreen” which is true electronica with a trippy Bhairavi. The final track “Forever - Radio Edit” is a reprise rounding out a truly relaxing listening experience.

Hoping to see a steady musical march for sensational sitarist Niladri Kumar in the years to come.

Lavanya Kamalesh Dinesh is a performer and teacher of North Indian classical/Hindustani vocal music. The singer’s performances in India and the U.S. have garnered much praise as have the three solo album releases to her credit. Reach the artist/writer at

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